In May 2012, the firm negotiated a pre-planned bankruptcy reorganization with debt holders, owners, creditors and suppliers. In the process, that Hawker Beechcraft debt was converted into equity in the new Beechcraft Corp. The firm also secured $400 million in debtor-in-possession financing to kick-start operations as it exited bankruptcy last February.
Since then, Beechcraft's turnaround has been nothing short of spectacular. Mid-year, it landed the largest ever order for general aviation turboprop aircraft when it inked a deal with Wheels Up, a new members-only air transportation venture started by the founders of Marquis Jet. (See sidebar.)
The King Air 350i has a lot going for it outside of attractive operating economics. It's an FAR Part 23 commuter category aircraft, thus it offers much the same one-engine-inoperative takeoff safety margins as an FAR Part 25 transport category jet.
Business aviation isn't the only market for the 350i. It's available in cargo/combi/freighter, air ambulance, intelligence/surveillance/reconnaissance and other special mission configurations. As a result, production rates of the 350i, along with the earlier 350, have averaged slightly more than 40 aircraft per year during the last decade.
What makes the 350i such an enduring design is the focus of this report.
All current production Beechcraft products have all metal, semi-monocoque airframes using spars, frames, ribs and stressed skins made of high-strength aluminum alloys. Very few parts are manufactured by using computer numerical controlled (CNC) mills and other automated tools. Instead, all Beechcraft are labor-intensive products, requiring several hundred skilled hand labor hours to complete.
Because of high labor costs in the U.S., much of the King Air 350i's air–frame, including tail plus upper and lower fuselage sections, now are built at Beechcraft's facility in Chihuahua, Mexico. But because of the noses' complex curves, building them requires the time-honed skills of the Beechcrafters in Wichita.
The upside to the hand labor construc–tion process is that it produces an airframe that's relatively easy to repair in the field. Rivets and fasteners may be drilled out of assemblies and subassemblies, so that only those components that are damaged need be removed, then repaired or replaced.
The King Air 350 was type certified in 1989, grandfathered as the Model B300 on the 1973 Model 200 FAA type certificate. Compared to the Model 200, the B300 features a 34-in. fuselage stretch, two more round cabin windows and double club seating for eight people. The wing also is about 3 ft. wider in span than the King Air 200's. As the aircraft's MTOW exceeds 12,500 lb., the additional weight moves it up into the Part 23 commuter category for structural integrity, aerodynamic and OEI performance standards and requires its pilots be type rated.